Emily Thornberry Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury
Thank you for contacting me about the government’s decision to break its public commitment, enshrined in law since 2015, to spend 0.7% of UK GNI on international aid. I sincerely apologise for the delay in responding to your email.
UK aid has made a difference to the lives of millions of people across the world. One of the proudest achievements of the last Labour government was founding the Department for International Development (DfID), which the Tories sadly dissolved last year.
As you will know, the international 0.7% target has been a cornerstone of UK aid policy for decades, and in 2004, it was a Labour government that set out the clear and achievable timetable which allowed that target to be reached by 2013.
The Tory Party have in the past backed the cross-party consensus behind 0.7%, albeit inflicting damaging annual cuts in the DfID budget after 2013 whenever its spending looked set to exceed that share of GNI.
Now, under Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak, they have taken a further backward step by cutting UK aid back to 0.5% of GNI, breaking the law passed in 2015 and the promise they made to the British people in their 2019 manifesto, and slashing £4 billion from the overseas aid budget.
The Coronavirus pandemic is an unprecedented global crisis which is creating huge financial pressures both in Britain and in every other country – yet the UK is the only country in the G7 which has announced that it is cutting back on its international aid budget.
For the UK to break its commitments to the poorest people in the world would be shameful at any time, but to do so during these incredibly difficult times – with hardship and suffering on the rise around the world – is nothing short of a disgrace.
The government either hasn’t considered, or does not care, about the impact its decision is going to have on the fight against climate change, or the recovery of health systems in the poorest countries from the ravages of the pandemic.
Nor have they considered the impact on the long-suffering victims of conflict, on the rights of women and girls around the world, and the ability of UK citizens to engage in international volunteering projects, which improve the lives of some of the world’s poorest people.
As I said on BBC Newsnight on 7th June: “When it comes to international aid, we can’t be chopping and changing the amount of money that we’re paying. In the end, aid is about being coherent, being consistent, and people knowing that the money is coming in and being able to lift themselves up..”
The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has said that the UK will resume spending 0.7% of its GNI on international aid once certain fiscal conditions have been met; conditions which will be nigh on impossible to meet whilst we have a Tory government, and which seemed to me to be a shabby backdoor way to make the cuts in aid permanent.
On 13th July, MPs were finally given a vote on Sunak’s proposals, and while Labour MPs voted unanimously against them, with the support of 25 Tory backbenchers and three former Tory Prime Ministers, the government sadly succeeded in voting to lock the aid cuts in..
Nevertheless, please be assured that the Labour Party remain committed to our manifesto promise. When we are in government, Labour will live up to our global responsibilities, restore our pledge to the poorest people in the world, and spend 0.7% of UK GNI on international aid.
Thank you again for contacting me about this important issue. If you have any further points you would like to raise about this issue or any other, please do not hesitate to get back in touch.
The Rt Hon. Emily Thornberry MP
Islington South and Finsbury
Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade